Road Test: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee “Signs of Life”

In the book of Genesis there is a great flood in which a man named Noah builds an arc to save the creatures of the Earth. Upon landing on a mountain top after a year of flooding, a dove is sent out to bring back some signs of life and dry land. This new Jeep Grand Cherokee, is Chrysler’s dove. Coming out of a change of ownership and bailouts from the government this is the only vehicle that the Chrysler Group had to prove itself for the first half of the year. In my opinion this is the most important launch the company has had in decades. So we were given this “dove” in an attempt to see if it was to produce an olive branch or be lost in the flood.

The exterior styling of this new Grand Cherokee does a great job at evolving the last generation’s awkward lines into a smooth and muscular SUV that wont stick out in traffic, but would also not look out of place parked between an X5 and a Mercedes GL. The detail put into the design of this new Jeep shows throughout the entire car and starts with the historic “Willys” Jeep grill embossed on the interior component of the headlights. Upon entering the Cherokee Overland many people would be astonished to find the “Jeep” logo on the leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The interior improvements on this model when compared to the outgoing Grand Cherokee are simply stunning. The Jeep we tested was the top Overland trim with black leather seats with grey piping. I would venture as far as to say that the Grand Cherokee was the most pleasant vehicle to be in that I have experienced in several years, including luxury marques such as Lexus, Mercedes, and Audi. The fit and finish of everything from the fantastic steering wheel to the stitching in the dash was miles ahead of any prior Chrysler offering and shows that the company is serious about changing its negative image.

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The entertainment center in the Jeep included the Uconnect™ radio with optional GPS by Garmin. The interface of this system is far ahead of many brand and is only lacking in some display options that I’ve seen handled better in the recent Audi systems. The steering wheel controls were easy to learn and utilized the most important functions so that attention could be paid to the road ahead.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland was equipped with the 4×4 Quadra-Trac II® system that allowed the Jeep to be lifted and have traction control and gearing adapted to different trail conditions. In the short test we did off the road in an area laden with large rocks and loose gravel, the Jeep was right at home. Even when we put the car in the most demanding situations and the Jeep had one wheel off the ground, it maintained a controllable amount of power to the three remaining wheels to maneuver the Cherokee forward through the trail. In several other accounts of tests with the Jeep Wrangler, the Cherokee could go nearly any place the traditional off-road king went. The machine is very capable and is full of technology found on cars $20,000 over it’s price.

On the highway the Jeep is a quiet and firmly planted vehicle that propels itself furiously forward when paired with the HEMI V8 motor. I echo the complaints of other that have driven the Grand Cherokee to say that its one flaw is the 5 speed transmission. In no way does it destroy the driving experience, but in many situations on the highway the Jeep surely could have benefited from not having to leap so far to downshift. For the majority of drivers, the transmission won’t be a real issue in most situations. The 5.7l V8 had more than enough power and is really only necessary for those towing regularly. We were able to average around 21mpg with a 80%/20% mix of highway/city driving in the span of a week.

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During the week we had also compared a 2011 GMC Acadia Denali and VW Touareg Hybrid and the top of the line Jeep was the cheapest at around $43,000. While this price is certainly not thrifty by any means, it is a great deal cheaper than a BMW X5 or a Land Rover which I would actually venture to compare the Jeep to with the equipment in the Overland package. It is simply a game changer for not only the Chrysler Group but the American automotive industry in general. When things started turning for the worst in Detroit several years ago part of me knew that out of the refining fires of the autopocalypse would come products that compete on a world level and show that we can engineer truly great cars.

So in summary I would have to say that as the flood of the recent storms, we find that there is hope among the wreckage in Auburn Hills and that when forced to compete or get the hell out of the market… we can finally step up and produce. It’s sad that it requires these conditions to force the manufacturers to recognize their inferiority and attempt to change. But there are signs of life and it starts with this “dove” of an SUV returning to the market with an olive branch in tow. There is dry land ahead and this new Grand Cherokee is now ready to tackle any trail that you may throw at it.


Special thanks to the LA County Forest Services for being so understanding about our “off road” adventure

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